Tag Archives: Andy Graham

The Shawshank Redemption

The Shawshank Redemption


Cambridge Arts Theatre

THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION at the Cambridge Arts Theatre


The Shawshank Redemption

“a stage production of such a well-known and iconic film is a brave thing to undertake”


To present such an opening impression of the Shawshank Maximum Security Penitentiary is an impressive undertaking for a touring production (Designer Gary McCann). The walls are built high on two levels with a gantry across the top upon which a uniformed guard paces, rifle in hand. Painted an institutional two-tone green, it is grubby and depressing. Extra set is flown in to move the action into Andy’s cell, the library, or the Governor’s office but otherwise the central open space acts for all other areas within the prison. Stark lighting (Designer Chris Davey) provides a foreboding mood but particularly in the early scenes actors are too often caught out of position and are lost into shadow. The echoing effects of metallic doors clanging far away increases the sallow mood (Designer Andy Graham).

Short snappy scenes are efficiently set – pulling on a cell bed, dragging away tables – with noise and commotion provided by the ensemble of prisoners who freeze to allow our attention to focus on the main action. Despite the inclusion of three understudies in this performance, the movement of the ensemble is slick (Director David Esbjornson).

Just as the character Red provides a voice-over in the film, so here he (Ben Onwukwe) narrates the story direct to the audience. Onwukwe has a magnetic presence and his empathy is engaging as he guides us through his friendship with the convicted double-murderer Andy Dufresne (Joe Absolom) and their life-long prison journeys. The two actors work comfortably with each other and their tender feeling contrasts with the general coldness and detachment of the rest of prison life. Absolom’s tenor voice and staccato delivery stands him apart from the rest. He broods around the edges of the stage, gazing downwards, and whilst his dialogue of never more than a few words at a time emphasises his character’s reticence it doesn’t help us to understand the man behind the silence either.

Despite the importance of the two central characters, the most successful scenes concern the full ensemble of prisoners. Dressed in identical prison uniform of brown boots and denim jeans they resemble a motley chorus line. Leigh Jones as Rooster gives a magnificent performance despite some inconsistency in his character’s violent demeanour, with his affected maniacal laughter and aggressive posture genuinely threatening. Kenneth Jay as old-timer librarian Brooksie provides a most moving performance in his reluctance to accept his parole. Coulter Dittman is given little opportunity to develop car-thief Tommy Williams but grasps excellently with what he has. And on the other side of the bars, the gravelled bass of Mark Heenehan as corrupt Governor Warden Stammas is consistently strong, exuding the authority of his position and his abuse of it.

Ultimately though, a stage production of such a well-known and iconic film is a brave thing to undertake, although we are clearly informed that the starting point is Stephen King’s original novella, not the film. The adaptation (by Owen O’Neill and Dave Johns) forgoes much of the detail – we don’t see just how clever Andy is being nor just how corrupt the Governor is – and with the limitations of a stage we don’t see the full grimness of prison life nor either the beauty or the pain of an escape from it. Despite the best of intentions and this most worthy ensemble cast, the play can only serve as a reminder of how good the film is.


Reviewed on 13th March 2023

by Phillip Money

Photography by Jack Merriman



Previously reviewed at this venue:


Copenhagen | ★★★★ | July 2021
Absurd Person Singular | ★★★ | September 2021
Tell me on a Sunday | ★★★ | September 2021
Dial M For Murder | ★★★ | October 2021
The Good Life | ★★ | November 2021
Aladdin | ★★★★ | December 2021
Animal Farm | ★★★★ | February 2022
The Homecoming | ★★★★★ | April 2022

Click here to read all our latest reviews


Handel's Messiah

Handel’s Messiah: The Live Experience


Theatre Royal Drury Lane



Handel's Messiah

“The soloists are captivating”


When Handel composed the music for “Messiah” in 1741 it initially had a mixed and modest reception and caused a rift between Handel and the librettist Charles Jennens. Handel completed the score in just over three weeks, the speed of which many perceived as a sign of ecstatic and divine energy but Jennens merely put it down to carelessness and laxity. Despite the faltering start, the oratorio gained in popularity eventually becoming one of the best known and frequently performed choral works. The ‘Hallelujah’ chorus being instantly recognisable and often performed as a standalone piece.

“Messiah” tells the whole life story of Christ from birth to death, and beyond. The go-to work to perform during the Easter or Christmas period, conductor Gregory Batsleer’s interpretation draws it away from the classical concert hall with the intention of pulling in a wider audience from the West End and beyond. The scale and ambition are on a grand scale; combining the London Symphony Chorus and the English Chamber Orchestra with four of the top soloists of the classical world. It is billed as an ‘immersive’ experience although the hype merely adds fuel to the debate as to what ‘immersive’ actually means in the theatrical context.

There is no getting away from the fact that the production is visually and aurally stunning. The libretto leaves more to be desired. A series of reflections and soundbites from the Old and New Testaments with none of the singers having any identifiable role. So, the success has to rely in part on the drama of the piece. The soloists are captivating: the soprano Danielle De Niese, Mezzo-Soprano Idunnu Münch, Baritone-Bass Cody Quattlebaum and tenor Nicky Spence perform with the requisite pageantry and purity, reinforced by the choir. The orchestra fleshes out the less muscular choruses to bring them in line with the stronger numbers, although the consistency does veer close to monotony at times. It is interspersed with narration from the charismatic Martina Laird and Arthur Darvill as ‘Mother’ and ‘Child’ respectively; reciting poetic prose on the themes of hope sacrifice and redemption.

The inclusion of dance adds another layer. Dan Baines, Jemima Brown and Sera Maehera accompany the music in the guise of rebel, leader and healer. They appear and disappear from the narrative, sometimes poignantly and sometimes superfluously, but always beguiling – especially Brown whose presence is quite hypnotic.

But the question remains as to how much this adds to the experience. It is often at odds with the performance, and most guilty of this is the vast video screen that splits the choir down the middle. Unavoidable, it intrudes throughout with images that bear little relation to the story, unless the references are deliberately oblique. Interesting as they are, they distract somewhat. As do the choice of costume for the narrators; a kind of Mad Max battle garb with token Biblical accessory – apocryphal and apocalyptic – the point of which misses its target.

Which is the fundamental flaw. The programme notes explain the intention to bring classical music to the masses. To make it inclusive and, I suppose, immersive. It assumes that the general population regard classical music as ‘dull and stuffy’ and that it is not something most people can relate to. Handel might not have agreed, but he would have approved of the approach. He was a showman himself after all; interested in the drama and not just the music. The multimedia elements are a response to the way the world is now. But while they might draw in a new crowd for this ‘dull and stuffy’ (the conductor’s words, not mine) music, they do little to make us follow the story and therefore capture the passion inherent in the score. Which is disengaging, instead of having the desired effect. “Messiah”, as an oratorio, has no story as such – so is not the easiest to follow. But the audience can wallow in the beauty of the music and let the imagination construct the scenes. This production unfortunately takes that away and replaces it with more confusion.



Reviewed on 6th December 2022

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Craig Fuller




Recently reviewed by Jonathan:


Barb Jungr Sings Bob Dylan | ★★★★ | Crazy Coqs | October 2022
The Choir Of Man | ★★★★ | Arts Theatre | October 2022
From Here To Eternity | ★★★★ | Charing Cross Theatre | November 2022
Glory Ride | ★★★ | The Other Palace | November 2022
La Clique | ★★★★★ | Christmas in Leicester Square | November 2022
The Sex Party | ★★★★ | Menier Chocolate Factory | November 2022
Love Goddess, The Rita Hayworth Musical | ★★ | Cockpit Theatre | November 2022
Rapunzel | ★★★★ | Watermill Theatre Newbury | November 2022
Top Hat | ★★★★ | The Mill at Sonning | November 2022
The Midnight Snack | ★★★ | White Bear Theatre | December 2022


Click here to read all our latest reviews